BIG BRAINS - small budgets: DIY Filmmaking Advice

BIG BRAIN – small budget: Amir Motlagh (Still Lover, Khoobi, 35 Year Old Man)

Amir Motlagh strives for an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to creating media and telling stories. He is a filmmaker by trade and practice, having written and directed over 15 narrative and non-fiction projects that have screened all over the world, and experienced every form of distribution with.

He’s also experienced first-hand the power of the internet when one of this early DIY short films spread virally before the term was popularized.

He received a BA in Psychology from UCLA and an MFA in Production with an emphasis in Directing at Chapman University. He also spent time at the Stella Adler Academy in Hollywood.

He leads a lean media labs company, ANIMALS, that creates content for motion pictures, television, the web, and the future, with an emphasis on creativity, and distinctiveness.

You can find him TWEETING here, uploading new videos on YOUTUBE and VIMEO, taking small snaps on INSTAGRAM, and occasionally posting at the intersection of the old and new here.

He believes that the future is bright, and we are responsible to lead with insight, humanity, aesthetics and emotion.

His larger mission will be achieved through collaboration, and a focus on a global, trans-disciplinary approach which takes into account the power of connectivity.

He welcomes people who reach out. So, come say hello. Let’s work. One final thing; he is MIRS.

DIY film is a loosely defined nomenclature; the DIY characterization is widely used in many aspects of our new world existence, in which a self-determinist attitude is taken as a means to self-sufficiency in almost any and all human activities, whether art, gardening, tech or health. In the same way that home improvement has become enraptured with DIY, with the proliferation of cheap and widely available tools, reality TV shows and free “how to” web resources, so has the more abstract arenas of the industrial and creative arts. To declare oneself a DIY’er is to reclaim a sense of control, in an otherwise fragmented and hyper-specialized world in which only professionals held the knowledge bank and the access to particular tools.

The industrial and creative arts, before this new century, were dominated by a society ruled by the “we pick you” system. If you wanted to make music, for example, your only true bet was to be picked by a major label, which would financially spot your endeavor. The means were hardly available to pay for the recording time, let alone the distribution, advertising and videos necessary to create a name for oneself. And at that point, putting up the money to self-finance your “dream” would be greeted with the dubious “Vanity Project” label; a vile and debilitating categorization.

This was naturally before Youtube, and iPads, iPhones, Final Cut Pro, clouds, Adobe CC, DAWS, etc., etc. In traditional movie making, the “we pick you” system always comes down to money.

The game has changed. Today the playing field has been leveled and we get to choose which roles we want to play. Writer, director, videographer, producer, distributor. Choose your weapon. Choose your allies. Learn and build and play together.

There is only one way to move forward in DIY. Just busy yourself by picking yourself. Plan and execute. However, you must be aware that your choices are extremely limited. You cannot replicate a Hollywood studio – you will lack the budget, the equipment, the expertise and the manpower. You need to know your limitations and work within them. Time is a precious resource and so you should plan and budget your time effectively. Get help where you can. Get help where you need it.

Commercial success in film relies on supply and demand. As the technological capabilities of being able to make films falls into more peoples’ hands, the competition increases, meaning it becomes harder and harder to reach an audience. To be frank, the masses do not want to spend time watching your film, for now. Why? Because the demand and distribution of long-form 2D projected imagery has a different history and different expectations. It is an industry for the masses with production bling being one of the most important selling points. DIY film projects fit in a different class but are stuck in the same stream. New stuff needs new ways.

You need to adapt your output for your audience. Who will be watching? Where? In what format? Do they have time to sit down and watch a feature film? The Youtube generation has short attention spans. How are you going to grab their attention, and keep it?

Always ask yourself if this is something you’re even interested in, as a form, as an art and as a path without a past. You are walking into a dark forest without a map. If your passion is not guiding you then don’t expect others to follow you on your path.

Look into the future. Make some predictions and then make your decisions. We might not need another film, but we probably need new forms. Too many people overestimate what they can achieve in a week and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade. Plan long term. Be wise. Make sustainable moves. Where do you see the art world going? Where do you see the film world going? If you want to stand out, you need to be one step ahead of the game. If you want to innovate you need to know what the rules are and you need to be prepared to break them.

Make something new. Do what you’re compelled to do, and what you’re good at. Love is ephemeral. You don’t have to do what you love. Love creates confusion. Do lots of things. Learn and explore. Mix and match. That’s where interesting things happen.

The obstacle is almost always the same. Money. You overcome it by doing something another way, or, you’re really good at finding money. A film can be anything you want it to be. No rules. Simple. The most difficult aspect of DIY is the exploration necessary to try another way. Lead another path. The simplest idea carried out effectively has more impact than a heap of ideas delivered without focus. Don’t be too smart. Be wise, be humble.

DIY filmmaking is a sort of progressive amateurism. It’s different than traditional filmmaking because it’s not really commerce driven. In this way, it can start over in terms of the rule set, and the syntax. Independent filmmaking is more akin to a genre in the US, so, whereas one is bound by and chasing its big brother Hollywood, DIY is still mostly undefinable, and can continue to be. The rules are made from the ground up. Nothing is set in stone. This gives you great freedom to experiment with form, with rules. Nowadays you can shoot for free. You can edit for free. You’re not paying for tape, you’re not paying for studio hire. Allow yourself time. Work, practice, experiment. Review, reflect, repeat.

DIY’s most important contribution is its rejection of a system of elitist regulation. It’s also where all of culture is headed, from tech to home improvement. More niche, individualistic and less mass market influenced. But there’s a danger here as we all become consumers of technology. Don’t lose sight of the story. Don’t be blinded by technology. Choose your tools and learn them inside out.

Is it all worth it? I don’t know if it’s worth it. Because the truth is that the cinematic form is very much an art form dealing with its own transition to a lesser cultural influencer. Add in the societal time deficit everybody is feeling, movies that have taken too many years to make come and go almost as fast as a tweet or blog post. It’s a long form technology, and like the fictional novel, suffers from the GUGGENHEIM Parentheses; although not literally as is the case of literature. How do you value your art? What are you hoping to achieve? Are there any other ways you could achieve your goals?

I always think filmmakers should be heavily vested in experimenting and finding new forms and ways to tell stories. Youtube is the now, but not necessarily the future. Sundance and Cannes will last as cultural institutions, but the future of new stories and storytellers are interacting with the web.

So, should you make your own media? Yes, absolutely. It’s really the only thing to do nowadays when you look ahead. But it still can really only function as a supplementary process for most.

The future, a vast, undefinable chasm of exploration driven, ironically, by simplicity. And manufactured by incredible complexity.

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MasteringFilm, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for aspiring and current filmmakers. No matter what your filmmaking interest is, including directing, screenwriting, postproduction, cinematography, producing, or the film business, MasteringFilm has you covered. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of filmmaking, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.